Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Turns out, there is internet everywhere. Which means I can not only check baseball scores, but even watch a game, like I did Sunday night. I saw the Red Sox win, then turned off the Dodgers game in the seventh inning. It was late; I was tired. Give me a break.

I had good reason to be tired, so I hope you (and the Dodgers) will forgive me for bowing out early. I've had a busy few days. Saturday morning I got up to catch the train to Naples. I don't have a whole lot to say about Naples, except that the pizza is phenomenal. We walked around the city for a few hours, and it was okay, but nothing spectacular. But we had dinner at this place called Sorbillo, and it was amazing.  I went with just the standard margherita, because I am a ridiculously picky eater. Christine had the nonna carolina, which involved pesto. I don't know. I had a bite and thought it tasted like hot dogs. So I'm not the person you want describing ingredients to you.

We left Naples early Sunday morning to catch the train to Pompeii. The cab driver who took us to the train station tried to get us to hire him to take us to Pompeii. Only €90 roundtrip. Since I happened to know that the train costs €2.40 each way, we declined his offer.

The train from Naples to Pompeii is called the "Circumvesuviana." Turns out this is quite the clever name, since the train does, in fact, circle Mount Vesuvius. It's sort of a city train, not like the ones we took from Venice to Florence, Rome and Naples. Rickety and noisy, but not as slow as you might think. We were on the express, which took only 27 minutes (advertised as taking 23), as compared to the 36 minutes that the local train takes. Either ride is fine, since you get a nice view of Vesuvius pretty much the whole way. This makes it easier to accept all the graffiti and the layer of dirt that seems to cover the whole train.

The thing about Vesuvius is that it's big. Bigger than I thought it would be. I guess I've seen pictures, but that's not the same thing. I suppose I just thought that if a big volcano exploded and buried a thriving town, maybe there wouldn't be so much of that volcano left. Vesuvius in my mind was not nearly as imposing as it is in real life.

I happen to know that at least one of my readers is planning a trip to Italy for next March. He wanted to know if it's worth it to go to Pompeii. My short answer is absolutely, without a doubt, yes. The long answer is after the jump.

I'll tell you one thing, those Pompeiians had one hell of a view of Vesuvius. Must have been nice, right up until the moment the thing blew its lid and slaughtered them all. There's a tradeoff with every nice property, I guess. Sometimes the apartment you can afford only comes with one parking space, and sometimes the only square footage you've ever known on earth just happens to be located on the side of an exploding volcano.

A t-shirt we found on Capri.  I can't look at it without laughing. 
I like to give Vesuvius Grover's voice.

We got to Pompeii at about 8:45, which is fifteen minutes after it opened. It was a Sunday, and we thought we'd have a shot at getting in and out before the big crowds came. Turns out we were right. For the first two hours we were there, we barely saw a soul. We wandered in, declined the offer of a private tour for €100, and headed off on our own, guidebook and map in hand. The self-guided tour is a little more difficult, if only because you have to fold out the map, look at a number next to a building, then open the guidebook to find the explanation. But if you're like me, and just want to look around and only hear about the things that catch your eye, don't bother with a guide. Especially if you have to do a tour with a large group. I can't imagine the pain of standing in front of a building while some architecture freak peppers the guide with questions about the specific mud used in the brick. Or whatever.

Christine started the Pompeii adventure by stopping in the middle of an ancient street, pointing out at the view of Vesuvius, and saying, "Why does everything here have to be so ugly?"

A shot that should help you understand that Christine was only being sarcastic.

Pompeii blew up in 79 A.D. A whole lot of people died there. Now, every year millions of tourists go and walk on the gravesite. Part of me has a big issue with this, and I hesitated at first to take smiling pictures all over this massive tomb. I got over it, though, when I realized people die everywhere, and I smiled for pictures at the Colosseum. Also, no one wants to read a blog full of pictures of me scowling at the camera.

Me, sitting on one of the most ancient parts of Pompeii.

I don't know what I can say about the place itself, except that it's endlessly fascinating. It was so well preserved, and you can tell that before the explosion it was such a modern, organized place. I guess we can thank the Romans for that. It is amazing to think of what life in a thriving Pompeii would have been like. The streets are straight and there are houses and restaurants and open areas and amphitheaters. And because it was so nicely preserved by all that ash, it doesn't feel like you're visiting a ruin. I thought the Roman Colosseum was impressive in that regard, but Pompeii just blows that away. Pun intended.  Pompeii is the kind of place where you can almost see the people who lived there. Like, if one of them just walked out of one of the buildings and said hi, you wouldn't be surprised. Well, you might be surprised at seeing a 2000-year old person. But other than that, it would not seem out of the ordinary.

The weather was perfect, but since I'm acting as a travel guide at the moment, I think it's important that I tell you to not go to Pompeii in the summer. I cannot imagine the heat in, say, July. We had a nice breeze going, but the sun was hot. Ten or fifteen degrees warmer, and my entire perspective on Pompeii would be dramatically different, I'm sure.

I realize I'm not doing this place enough justice. I can only think in fragments, probably largely due to the fact that I took notes in my Moleskine the whole time I was there. That's not too queer, right? Also, I'm currently in Capri, looking out over the water, so I'm a bit distracted. Soon I will post a full album of photos, and I'll let the images do the talking.

The bottom line is, Pompeii is awesome. And worth a day trip out there. We spent about three hours there, and though we felt like we got a big enough overview, I'm certain you can spend six hours or eight hours or more and still not get too bored with looking at crumbling, ancient buildings. The people who lived here were around before Jesus! And you can see where they lived and look at plaster casts of their dead bodies! If that sort of thing doesn't get your juices flowing, then I can't help you.

Next up: Capri.


Orel said...

Enjoy that Capri sun!

berkowit28 said...

A lot of comment-removing going on here...

Erin said...

Yes, I had some issues. And I only just figured out how to delete the thing that says that the comment has been deleted.